Rose Willock refers to Montserrat as her “Little Valhalla.” It’s not a throwaway phrase or casual platitude. Her love of country is profound and tangible. Her civic involvement, cultural promotion and community outreach stretches back more than five decades. She hails from a small village in the east called Purchase, near Long Ground. Later on she relocated to Saint Patrick’s in the south. Along the way, she established a crucial level of visibility and endeared herself to the public through her congenial demeanor and love of service.
In 1965, Rose was teaching at the Cork Hill Primary School. It was her third year as a teacher following her graduation from the Montserrat Secondary School. Aside from teaching, she was heavily involved in cultural organizations. She was a member of the Carnival Joy Promoters, a group she first joined while at MSS. The Joy Promoters designed costumes for the annual festival, organized princess shows and also formed a dance group that performed at social functions such as cocktail parties at Government House. Rose also played netball and was a member of the Shamrock Players, a “play reading” group featuring nationals and expatriates. Yes, her plate was full. But that was fine. She enjoyed consuming everything about Montserrat. “At that time you got involved in whatever was happening,” she explains. “As young people we never allowed ourselves to be bored.”
So by the time Rose was recruited as a contestant for the Festival Queen Show by the Jaycees, she was well-known on the island. She and the four other contestants — Christine Carty, Mary Greenaway, Avonelle Rachael Lewis and Gloria Liburd — were ecstatic to be involved. They all knew each other. It was a competition, but it didn’t feature the tense rivalry and drama that defines other pageants. “We all supported each other,” Rose says. “As a matter of fact, I was rooting for my cousin and best friend Christine Carty to win. But that didn’t mean I was going to hold back. I was also very competitive.”
Rose did not have trouble finding a sponsor. Annie Eid, longtime proprietor of a variety store in Plymouth, agreed to be Rose’s benefactor. Eid’s son, Errol, designed Rose’s costume, which featured a sunflower theme. “He was very artistic, very creative,” Rose says. “I just loved that costume.”
The Queen Show at that time featured only two major segments: costume and evening wear. Each contestant was also interviewed on Radio Montserrat prior to the big show, which was held at MSS. A stage was built in the school yard facing Church Road. There was reserve seating, and the event was formal. “Everybody dressed up for the Queen Show in those days,” Rose says. “It was not casual at all.”
Rose’s costume and evening-wear segments went off flawlessly, and as time drew near for the judges to announce their decision, Rose had a sense that she had prevailed. “I could tell based on audience reaction.” When the results came in, Rose Willock was crowned Festival Queen 1965, edging her cousin Christine. Back then, the crowning of the Festival Queen was almost like an actual coronation. The queen was draped with a flowing cape, given a scepter, and fitted with a sparkling tiara. “It was very regal,” Rose says. “It was like, ‘introducing … Her Majesty.’ ”
Asked what separated her from her rivals that night, Rose said: “Nerves. I think nerves got the best of the other girls. It’s not easy going on stage in front of so many people. I love people. I feed off people. But for others it was not that easy.”
Rose’s grand prize was a trip to Barbados. She was chaperoned by Mrs. Daisy Nanton, whom she refers to as her “other mother.” It was the first time Rose had traveled anywhere farther than Antigua. As an ambassador for Montserrat, she got to interact with people on different levels during her time in Barbados, from dignitaries to the masses. On a personal level, she met several family members for the first time who resided in Barbados.
After her reign as queen, Rose’s community involvement didn’t wane. Rose says teaching was always her first love. After leaving MSS, she turned down a job offer from a local bank and applied for a teaching position. Little did she know that her future would be in broadcasting. While at MSS, she served as a volunteer at Radio Montserrat (ZJB). That informal internship proved vital. She learned the ropes about broadcasting. Years later, she had a moment of clarity.
“One day I was listening to a Barbados radio station and I thought to myself, ‘Hey, [broadcasting], that’s the way to go! I can have a much bigger audience and still teach.’ ”
She began working at ZJB in 1966. She joined rival Radio Antilles from 1976 until 1989, when Hurricane Hugo wrecked the station’s transmitter. She returned to ZJB in 1990. She never stopped teaching, however. She taught dance and served as a substitute teacher at MSS. She also remained involved in the queen show, serving as a judge, host and chaperone, helping at least four contestants capture the crown. And although the prizes have evolved greatly since Rose was crowned, with winners receiving a brand new vehicle, the show has been canceled several times because organizers were unable to find contestants.
From 1962 to 1987, a queen show was never canceled due to lack of participation. From 1988 to 2017, it happened five times, excluding years affected by natural disasters. Rose says the No. 1 reason some girls are reluctant to participate is a lack of confidence.
“I get a little sad when I interact with some young people, sometimes 17 and 18 years old, and they don’t know what they want or where they’re going. We need to allow young girls to grow in confidence and competence.”
“A lot of the contestants have not established themselves at the community level,” Rose says. “If I could give them any advice it’s, be involved. Build your confidence, look at people in the eye when they talk to you. Give a firm handshake. Smile, and the world smiles with you. I get a little sad when I interact with some young people, sometimes 17 and 18 years old, and they don’t know what they want or where they’re going. We need to allow young girls to grow in confidence and competence. They benefit, and the community benefits as well.”